Red Lake to white media: stay out

Red Lake to white media: stay out


When the news broke about the school shooting at the Red Lake High School on Monday, journalists wasted little time swarming the remote reservation. No surprise there. The mass media finds nothing juicier than a school rampage, and this one promised the highest body count since Columbine in 1999.


Under typical circumstances, Big Media's emissaries could be expected to knock on every door in the affected community in search of the hot interview. The anguished relative. The clueless neighbor. The shocked friend. No doubt, all usual types would be turned up in quick order.


But journalists who expected to cover the Red Lake High School shootings on a mayhem-as-usual basis got something of a surprise. As explained in a previous post, Red Lake?s status as a closed reservation gives the band unusual authority to restrict the movements of non-band members, including reporters. And so far, it appears the Red Lake leadership has chosen to exercise that authority.


The first journalists on the scene--from Bemidji, the nearest city--did move about the reservation with relative freedom. But as media from the Twin Cities and beyond barreled north on their widow shaking mission, all that changed. By Tuesday, journalists were mainly restricted to a parking lot of the Red Lake Detention Facility, where they were spoon-fed accounts of the mayhem by assorted officials.


Consequently, unlike Littleton, Jonesboro and other communities rendered infamous by the endless videos of their school shootings and aftermath, Red Lake has managed to maintain an unusual measure of control over the descending media horde. Late Tuesday afternoon, City Pages talked to veteran Bemidji Pioneer photographer Monte Draper about getting caught up in the media swarm and what he thought of the restrictions placed on journalists.


City Pages: You?ve spent a lot of time at Red Lake. Normally your movement there is unfettered, right?


Monte Draper: Yes. One former tribal chairman, Roger Jourdain, used to have a rule where you needed to have a passport to go to the reservation. I still have mine, but it is in a frame on a wall at my home. The last two days have been very unusual.


CP: What sort of access did you have to Red Lake on the day of the shooting?


Draper: At first, I had zero problems. There were fire crews circling the high school complex, but you could still move from spot to spot. After more of the media arrived, something changed. Everybody near the street [by the high school] got buffaloed. I got lucky because I was out of sight. About forty minutes later, I was walking back towards my truck with my camera and all the sudden these guys are running at me. They say, ?You?re not supposed to be here.? I said, ?Okay,? and left.


CP: What was the access like today?


Draper: The BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] police were stopping everyone, asking them their business. If you said you were a reporter, they directed you to the detention facility, which is a giant, fenced off parking lot. One way in. One way out. Otherwise, the rest of Red Lake was off-limits. If you drive around the reservation, you will be stopped. Everybody leaving the press conference was asked, ?Where are you going? What are you doing?? The majority just went back to Bemidji.


CP: Describe the media presence at Red Lake today.


Draper: I?d never seen anything like that. They came from everywhere. Two FOX stations. CBS from Washington. CBS from Chicago. CBS from Los Angeles. I talked to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times. I talked to a photographer from Florida. I talked to a photographer from Milwaukee. Right now I?m looking at a shot [of the press conference in the parking lot], and there are 25 TV cameras. There were easily 75 people there. There were also seven satellite trucks.


CP: As a journalist, what do you think about the restrictions?


Draper: I?m not a journalist, I?m a photographer [laughs].But I think they had to do what they did just because of the number of media. For the sake of the Red Lake people, I think, they needed control.


CP: I imagine that resulted in a lot of frustration for journalists.


Draper: They have to be frustrated. It?s just so tight. Everybody?s getting the same stuff.

Molly Miron of the Bemidji Pioneer [reg required] offers this explaination of Red Lake's position on media restrictions on the reservation:

During the press conference, Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. warned media members that they were guests on Indian land and that Red Lake is a closed reservation. He said he would protect the privacy of the grieving community, as well as the integrity of the ongoing FBI investigation, by ordering the expulsion of any media members who strayed from the assigned parking lot. A short time later, tribal officials brought in portable toilets for the convenience of the media members and to prevent any excuses they might have for wandering around the reservation. ?Out of respect for the victims and their families, we request you won?t go out in the community,? Jourdain said

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